Making Peace With Your Father

Making Peace With Your Father

by David Stoop

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This revised and updated copy of the bestselling book encourages readers to celebrate the positive influences their dads had on them and to make peace with their fathers for the difficulties and problems they may have caused through an 11-step process.See more details below


This revised and updated copy of the bestselling book encourages readers to celebrate the positive influences their dads had on them and to make peace with their fathers for the difficulties and problems they may have caused through an 11-step process.

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Baker Publishing Group
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Meet the Author

Dr. David Stoop is the founder and director of the Center for Family Therapy. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Forgiving the Unforgivable. David and his wife, Jan, have coauthored books and lead worldwide seminars and retreats on topics such as marital relationships, parenting, men's issues, fathering, and forgiveness. They have three sons and five wonderful grandchildren. Learn more at

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Making Peace with Your Father

By David Stoop


Copyright © 2004 David Stoop
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8307-3441-4

Chapter One

The Journey Toward Dad

Fathers. Everyone has one-for better or for worse. And everyone needs a daddy.

What was your father like? When you think about your father do you remember warm and happy times? Wrestling on the living room floor, listening to his fanciful stories at bedtime, sneaking off for an ice cream treat, talking about your day at school?

Or do you have darker memories? Being yelled at for spilling your milk, smacked on the side of the head for asking a question during his favorite TV program, humiliated in front of your friends because you struck out in the crucial ninth inning?

Do you perhaps have few or no memories of Father, because he was seldom or never present in your life?

Whether your memories are positive or negative, whether your father was present or absent, he has shaped and continues to shape who you are today. Every year many clients come to our clinic for counseling about a variety of issues. Often we find that these clients need to discuss and resolve some very painful father issues before we can deal with what appears to be the "real" problem.

As we shall see in this book, fathers play a crucial role in child development. To put it more pointedly: Our fathers, yours and mine, have played a major role in making us who we are today. Their successes have strengthened us, their failures have weakened us.

Making peace with Father-it's a journey as well as a destination. When you picked up this book, you began the journey. The book may not take long to read; the journey can last a lifetime.

As you make the journey, you will have moments of excruciating pain. You will also feel more joy than you ever dreamed possible.

You will open old wounds, but you will also find healing.

At times you will wonder if you will ever find what or whom you are seeking. Then hope will break through and you will be filled with the courage to continue.

The journey toward Dad is a perilous but necessary voyage. We all must take it, if we want to be whole.

It is a journey I have made and am still making. I would like to invite you to make this journey with me.

My own journey goes back fifty years.

Life with Father

When I was a boy, about all we expected of Dad was that he simply be there. He was physically present, at least most of the time. That was supposed to be enough.

Dad worked in a manufacturing plant as a spot welder. I remember him coming home from work at the end of the day, physically exhausted. He'd say hello to my mother, then wash up for dinner. Conversation around the table was pretty minimal, but it always included the question, "How was school today?" My sister and I would say, "Fine," and that was that. After dinner, Dad would retreat to the living room, plop down in "his" chair, and read the newspaper until he dozed off.

Sometimes we'd all gather around and listen to a program on the radio. This was in the days before television. But families could get glued to the radio just as they get glued to the TV today. Those were times of togetherness for our family, and I remember them warmly. I also remember that they didn't happen all that often.

Our house ran according to a fairly tight regimen. Dad was a strict disciplinarian who didn't like a lot of variance from the routine. As children we were expected to go about our business-chores, homework, even playtime-quietly and unobtrusively. And we usually did, having learned from unpleasant experience what happened when we awakened Dad's Irish temper.

Weekends likewise had a routine of their own. Dad spent most of Saturday working around the house, fixing things or just tinkering in the garage. He didn't involve us kids much in his tinkering.

Sunday was reserved for church. We went to church every week, morning and evening, without fail. On rare occasions, Sunday afternoons were special. We would go out to eat after morning service, then to the local art museum. It was in a lovely setting, with trees and a lake. When we were little, we got to run around the lake. As we got older, we spent more time inside the museum. I can still remember wandering through the musty old building, all by myself, entranced by the artifacts from Europe and Egypt and the Orient. I had a hunger to know more about what was going on beyond the horizons of my little world, about what had happened in the past. But most Sunday afternoons involved reading or taking a nap.

Dad did little to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. He didn't talk much, either about current events or, especially, about his own past. I knew he had grown up in Ireland, which sounded terribly exotic to me. But it was almost impossible to get him to talk about it. Sometimes we'd visit with Dad's brother, my uncle Tom. The women would congregate in the kitchen, and the men would gather in the living room, and the children were expected to stay out of the way. Sometimes I'd overhear bits and pieces of their conversations. I knew it wasn't my place to join in.

The fact was that we were all together as a family a lot of the time-at least physically. For all our togetherness, though, we maintained a definite emotional distance. Life in my family wasn't exactly like growing up on "Father Knows Best." But I think it was pretty typical for families in those days.

Mr. Mom?

What exactly was Dad supposed to do for us, anyway?

The traditional view of fathers and mothers was that Mom's work took place primarily within the home, while Dad's job was mostly outside the home-working to provide for the family's needs. Inside the home, he was little more than a supplemental mother, supporting Mom and backing her up when she was ill or otherwise absent from the scene.

Even today, to many people, "parenting" is pretty much synonymous with "mothering." According to this view, both parents need to build a bonded relationship with the children, provide nurturing care, allow the child to gradually move away from the parents so as to establish his or her individuality, etc. But this is simply to apply to both parents the job description for Mom.

That job description, in turn, derives from the view that the mother-child bond is essentially biologically determined. Mother and child begin the bonding process while the child is still in the womb. The unborn child hears her mother's voice, tastes her mother's food, even feels her mother's emotions. All this forms the basis for a close, symbiotic relationship after birth. The needs of the newborn and the mother are seen as complementary. Baby needs mothering, and Mom needs to mother. Everything fits together.

Mom seems to know what the baby wants or needs, without knowing how she knows it. She just knows whether the baby is hungry or sleepy or lonely-or just needs a new diaper. Dad may be mystified by this uncanny sixth sense. The baby's cries all sound pretty much the same to him. He marvels at his wife's ability to discern what is really going on.

Dad probably tries to be helpful in whatever ways he can. But in the early months, not many opportunities are open to him. Especially if Mom is nursing, Dad's ability to help out is pretty much limited to changing diapers or holding the baby for a few minutes while Mom attends to something else. Playing with the baby-especially the kind of roughhousing associated with the male role-is limited during the first few months. Most of what the baby needs can come only from the mother. Thus, at this stage, parenting really is more or less equivalent to mothering.

Unfortunately, too many fathers never seem to notice that infants turn into toddlers and schoolchildren and adolescents. They continue to think that caring for children is women's work.

My father engaged exclusively in "men's work"-meaning he went to work and brought home a paycheck. He also worked outside the house. He mowed the lawn, fixed the car, painted the house. Mom cooked the meals, washed the floors, and took care of the kids. The only time Mom and Dad broke out of their roles was when we kids broke out of our accepted behavioral patterns; then we faced Dad and his belt. Mothers were to be loved; fathers were to be respected-and feared.

Back then, many people saw the traditional roles of men and women as being almost sacred. Daughters were taught to cook, sew, clean the house, and look forward to marrying a man who would provide for them. Boys were expected to help with the heavy chores and look forward to getting a job that would provide for their families. A college education was seen as essential for sons, but only as an optional extra for daughters.

Sometime between when my father raised me and when I started raising my own children, things started to change.

Dr. Spock came along-soon followed by a host of other parenting experts whose books had an enormous impact on my generation. These experts argued vigorously for an expanded role for fathers. Dad was now urged to talk to the infant while it was still in the womb-trying, in some small measure, to compensate for the mother's innate advantage in prenatal bonding.

A generation later Dad, instead of pacing in the hospital waiting room during childbirth, would be invited into the delivery room itself, having learned how to coach his wife through labor and delivery (a role also once performed by women serving as midwives).

But while the father's role was expanded, it was still seen essentially as an extension of the mother's role. There was still no concept of a uniquely male role in childrearing. A conscientious father functioned as an assistant mother, though his major function was still to provide financial support and handle discipline-presumably from a more emotionally bonded position in the child's life.

In reality, most fathers faced a continuing conflict between work and home. Many found ways to be somewhat involved with their families and to father their children in positive, healthy ways. Many would have liked to do more with their families, but the demands of their jobs were too great-they left home early, came back late, and were too tired to do much more than collapse (in front of the television set, if they were fathers during the fifties or later). Some found more destructive ways to unwind, drinking themselves into relaxation or venting their pent-up anger on their wives and children.

I became a father in the midst of this transitional phase. I did far more with my children than my father ever did with me, and more than my friends' fathers ever did with them. But during the first years of my children's lives, I would have been hard-pressed to describe any unique role that I filled specifically as a father. Parenting was still just mothering, and in the end, mothering was what I did. I just did more of it than had been traditional for fathers in the past.

Desperately Seeking Daddy

Some researchers, like anthropologist Margaret Mead, suggest that fathering as we usually think of it is a purely human invention-that in fact fathers serve no function beyond what we see in animals. But if that is true-if fathers are so peripheral to healthy human development-then why do so many of us whose fathers were either physically absent or emotionally detached feel such an empty longing for Daddy?

If you have felt that longing, you are probably asking many of the same questions that family researchers have begun asking about fathers, fathering, and fatherhood.

The focus on fathers is a remarkably recent development. Until the last few years, Dad's role was not only downplayed, it was largely ignored by child development studies. Even today, with the new stirring of interest in the father's role, research remains scarce compared with the mountains of data and theoretical work devoted to the role of the mother. But enough research has been done and enough data assembled to allow me to say with confidence: Our fathers, whether they were present or absent, have played a major role in shaping our lives.

This is a fertile time for those who do research on the effects of absent fathers. Back in the 1940s, when I was growing up, most families were "together." I don't recall having a single childhood friend who came from a divorced home. As far as we were concerned, getting divorced was something that only the rich and irresponsible did. The very word divorce was seldom spoken out loud.

Things have certainly changed since then. It is now estimated that as many as one-third of today's children will experience their parents' divorce at some point in their lives. Of these, half will spend considerable time in a single-parent family. And the vast majority of these families will be headed by single mothers.

In a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers estimated that one out of four American children is being raised in a home without a father present. That works out to more than 15 million children growing up without a father. More than half these children, the researchers found, have never visited their father's new home. About 40 percent never even see their fathers during a typical year. These statistics cross racial, social, and even international boundaries. In France, almost two million children live in fatherless homes. In Canada the number is over 1.2 million.

Dr. Louis Sullivan, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush Administration, has noted that parents today spend 40 percent less time with their children than did parents in 1965. And that says nothing about the skyrocketing number of divorces: There are more than twice as many divorces now as there were just twenty-five years ago. According to Sullivan, the absence of fathers is "the greatest family challenge of our era."

Only time will tell for sure what will happen to today's generation of fatherless or inadequately fathered children. But by studying the effects of father absence, we are beginning to learn more about the effects of father presence. More than ever before, we know how our own fathers' behavior affected the persons we have become. Behavioral scientists are learning what roles our fathers played in our development as children and adolescents. They are learning that Dad was not the same as Mom and that one parent, no matter how conscientious, was not the same as two.

The good news is that we are beginning to learn more about the significance of the father in the family. The bad news is that we are learning it by discovering how much damage has been wrought by absent, emotionally disconnected, or downright destructive fathers in the past.

There is no question that the absence of a father in the home brings serious consequences. For example, about half of all single-mother families live below the poverty line. The income of mothers who divorce typically drops by almost one-third.


Excerpted from Making Peace with Your Father by David Stoop Copyright © 2004 by David Stoop. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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